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What are the 15 reasons people use slang according to British lexicographer Eric Partridge?

In Chapter 2 of his early work, Slang: Today and Yesterday (New York: Macmillan, 1934), British lexicographer Eric Partridge (1894-1979) writes that people use slang for any of at least 15 reasons:

  1. In sheer high spirits, by the young in heart as well as by the young in years; 'just for the fun of the thing'; in playfulness or waggishness.
  2. As an exercise either in wit and ingenuity or in humor. (The motive behind this is usually self-display or snobbishness, emulation or responsiveness, delight in virtuosity).
  3. To be 'different', to be novel.
  4. To be picturesque (either positively or - as in the wish to avoid insipidity - negatively).
  5. To be unmistakably arresting, even startling.
  6. To escape from clichés, or to be brief and concise. (Actuated by impatience with existing terms.)
  7. To enrich the language. (This deliberateness is rare save among the well-educated, Cockneys forming the most notable exception; it is literary rather than spontaneous.)
  8. To lend an air of solidity, concreteness, to the abstract; of earthiness to the idealistic; of immediacy and appositeness to the remote. (In the cultured, the effort is usually premeditated, while in the uncultured it is almost always unconscious when it is not rather subconscious.)
    1. To lesson the sting of, or on the other hand to give additional point to, a refusal, a rejection, a recantation;
    2. To reduce, perhaps also to disperse, the solemnity, the pomposity, the excessive seriousness of a conversation (or of a piece of writing);
    3. To soften the tragedy, to lighten or to 'prettify' the inevitability of death or madness, or to mask the ugliness or the pity of profound turpitude (e.g. treachery, ingratitude); and/or thus to enable the speaker or his auditor or both to endure, to 'carry on'.
  9. To speak or write down to an inferior, or to amuse a superior public; or merely to be on a colloquial level with either one's audience or one's subject matter.
  10. For ease of social intercourse. (Not to be confused or merged with the preceding.)
  11. To induce either friendliness or intimacy of a deep or a durable kind. (Same remark.)
  12. To show that one belongs to a certain school, trade, or profession, artistic or intellectual set, or social class; in brief, to be 'in the swim' or to establish contact.
  13. Hence, to show or prove that someone is not 'in the swim'.
  14. To be secret - not understood by those around one. (Children, students, lovers, members of political secret societies, and criminals in or out of prison, innocent persons in prison, are the chief exponents.)

For more information, see the most recent edition of his work, A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (London: Routledge, 2002).

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